US sportswear giant Nike is facing protesters in Japan over plans to turn a small public park in Tokyo's fashion district into a "Nike Park" with a skating ramp and a climbing wall.
The local Shibuya ward several months ago evicted homeless people who had lived in the park, but dozens of activists have since moved in to oppose the plan to develop the small green space next to a city rail line.
Advertisement"We oppose Nike park!" reads one of the signs hung across a fence at the one-hectare (2.5-acre) Miyashita Park, one of the few green patches in the bustling high-rise shopping district.
The band of activists patrol the park and say they will bar local officials and construction workers from entering it, while idling over coffee and tea for much of the day.
"We are opposed to Shibuya ward's plan to let Nike, one single private company, build for-profit sports facilities in this public space," said one of the protesters, Tetsuo Ogawa.
A Nike spokeswoman said the project was part of its "social responsibility" work, and that the idea emerged almost three years ago, with construction work originally scheduled to have started last September.
It was delayed to April but has since been blocked by the protesters, who have been backed by anti-globalisation activists in Australia, France and Thailand rallying outside Japanese embassies and Nike shops in solidarity.
A Nike spokeswoman, who asked not to be named, defended the project.
"The park will be reborn as a 24-hour open public space, which will be safer. I think more people will be able to use it than now."
Under the plan, Nike would pay Shibuya ward 17 million yen (about 180,000 dollars) per year for a decade for the naming rights and redevelop the park at its own cost, a city official said.
While some locals have welcomed the plan, others have criticised it as a move against Tokyo's homeless, thousands of whom live in cardboard and plastic shelters in public parks, under bridges and on footpaths.
A Shibuya official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the park had long been decrepit, and that some residents had complained about the homeless people living there.
"The facilities are getting old, and the ward has to renovate them at some point. This project would benefit both the company and the ward office," the official told AFP.
The ward had helped the homeless enter shelters or move to a nearby site, "even setting up individual plastic huts for them," the official said.
Frustrated by having protesters put the project on hold, the official added: "What more do they want from us? Now those occupying the park are the ones blocking ordinary citizens from freely using the public space."
Passersby have been puzzled by the environment that the activists, many of them self-declared artists, have created since the homeless left behind piles of dirty blankets and household items.
With broken umbrellas now hanging from fences and bicycle frames left upside down, Ogawa said the activists were expressing their opposition to the Nike project through artwork made from items left by the homeless.
"From the viewpoint of an artist, this is not garbage. We are inspired to show that people used to live here through creating monuments," he said. "But we also must open up this space more to ordinary people.
"Anybody is welcome to share coffee or tea with us."
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